Drug Familiarization and Therapeutic Misconception Via Direct-to-Consumer Information

J Bioeth Inq. 2015 Jun;12(2):259-67. doi: 10.1007/s11673-015-9634-8. Epub 2015 May 12.


Promotion of prescription drugs may appear to be severely limited in some jurisdictions due to restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA). However, in most jurisdictions, strategies exist to raise consumer awareness about prescription drugs, notably through the deployment of direct-to-consumer information (DTCI) campaigns that encourage patients to seek help for particular medical conditions. In Canada, DTCI is presented by industry and regulated by Health Canada as being purely informational activities, but their design and integration in broader promotional campaigns raise very similar ethical concerns as those associated with DTCA. Specifically, DTCI can be an effective means of familiarizing the public with the scope and benefits of a particular prescription drug and so, like DTCA, can promote increased patient-consumer demand and thus a problematic rise in the prescribing and use of medications that may be neither the most appropriate nor the most cost-effective. Yet, with DTCI the industry is playing within the existing rules and regulations set by health regulators. To respond appropriately to this regulatory incoherence, we argue that DTCI should be regulated as a type of direct-to-consumer indirect advertising. Even if the case and specific regulations presented here are Canadian, the implications extend to every country that has a partial or total prohibition on DTCA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Direct-to-Consumer Advertising / ethics*
  • Direct-to-Consumer Advertising / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Drug Industry / ethics*
  • Drug Industry / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Government Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / ethics*
  • Information Dissemination / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Prescriptions
  • Therapeutic Misconception*